Thursday, March 21, 2013

New Orleans

It has been a long couple of months but I'm back! While I haven't been cooking or baking as much as I would like, I have been enjoying food like a champ, especially on my most recent trip for work to The Big Easy. But first, a little update on my life: I absolutely love my job and the wonderful women I work with. I found an adorable apartment with one of my longest friends, Jilly, and we'll be moving next weekend. I can't wait to get my belongings out of storage and get settled. I also can't wait to wake up and see this handsome face every morning again:
Okay, enough with the cat lady talk. I decided that since this is a food blog and all, I should write about the places I visit and what I eat while I'm there. When I first started this blog I never imagined I would be traveling nearly as much as I will be in the future, but it's all food after all!

I stayed at the Astor Crowne Plaza, which is located at the corner of Canal Street and Bourbon Street. Above is the view of Bourbon Street from the balcony of the hotel. This was taken pretty early so the street wasn't packed yet, but despite New Orleans's non-existent Irish heritage, they partied like champs. I had heard stories of Boston's craziness around St. Patrick's Day and I was sad I was going to miss it for my first St. Patrick's Day living in the area, but I don't think even Boston has topless girls with their breasts painted with four leaf clovers. Believe me, I wanted to take a picture of the seven or so young women I saw with this get-up, but I felt a little pervy asking to take a picture. In my humble opinion, Bourbon Street is a bit overrated. It smells, it's dirty (they literally hose down the streets every night), and it's filled with strip clubs, loud bars who sell to-go drinks in fish bowls and other assorted large plastic containers, and drunken college students. It was enjoyable to walk up and down to get from place to place, and maybe had I gone with some friends with the intention of being rowdy I would have enjoyed it more, but I just don't think it's really my scene. There were some good restaurants around there that I enjoyed though!
Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House & Seafood Bar was located right inside the hotel and had really good food. I had my first of many hurricanes here and the desserts were outstanding. One of the best things I ate while I was in New Orleans was their Chocolate Pecan Crunch Cake, which had dark chocolate mousse, pecan brittle crunch and salted caramel. I didn't take a picture of this one because we all pounced on it the minute it came to the table. The texture contrast of the smooth cake and the crunchy brittle, and the flavor contrast of the sweet brittle and the salty caramel sauce made this dessert to die for. I was glad we split it between six of us though because it was certainly rich!

On day two, I made my way to the Jackson Square area and the French Market. This was much more along the lines of what I had pictured New Orleans to be like, not Bourbon Street. The church is St. Louis Cathedral, an absolutely breath-taking church that actually reminds me a bit of Cinderella's castle in Disney. The picture does not do it justice. It does, however, how show absolutely beautiful the weather was! This was taken on St. Patrick's Day. It was 85 degrees and sunny.

Jackson Square was a wonderfully fun area with street performers (left), artists, musicians, and plenty of fortune tellers and palm readers. The performer below scared the absolute daylights out of a woman who tipped him right after I snapped this shot of him. As soon as she put her dollar in his hat he jumped up to, I'm assuming, thank her, but she screamed and ran off when he tried to get her to come over to him. It was hysterical, but I can't say I blame her. 

The French Market is an awesome open-air (but covered) outdoor market. The first part I walked through had a lot of food items (lots of different hot sauces, jams, jellies) and places you could buy food already made for you. I saw a normal sized paper plate stacked close to 8 inches tall with boiled craw-fish. The second part of the market is the part that sells lots of jewelry, New Orleans gifts, crafts, scarves, and all sorts of odds and ends to commemorate your trip. 

While I was in the area, I had to go to Cafe Du Monde, known for their famous beignets. They come three to a plate, and my two co-workers and I each had one. They come piled high with so much powdered sugar, there is absolutely no way someone can eat these things without getting it all over themselves. They were delicious but definitely reminded me of the fried dough you can get at a carnival, only these were smaller pieces and fluffier. It's open 24 hours and it seems to be packed no matter what time you go.

My absolute favorite restaurant was Jacques-Imo's. It's located in the garden district, so it's a bit out of the way, but well worth the cab ride. I went here based on a couple of recommendations I had gotten from a couple of responses to a Facebook status asking where I should go in New Orleans, and when I looked up the menu I knew I had to go. I couldn't tell what the restaurant would look like based on the website, but I never imaged what I ended up seeing. It's a re-purposed house-turned-restaurant. The front of the restaurant holds the bar, and you have to walk through the kitchen to get to the rest of the dining area, which is a couple of rooms that were opened up, and a former back deck with walls around it. 

There are murals painted all over the non-insulated walls of tree branches and people. Very hippie-dippy stuff, so naturally I loved it. Oh yeah, and they seat people in the alley between the the restaurant and the house next door. The place is very casual, with the bartender and cook acting as waitstaff when needed, but the food was out of this world. They start you off with cornbread, but not just any normal cornbread. It looked like (when I was walking through the kitchen) they cook the cornbread in muffin tins and garlic oil, popover style. It was a little sweet and a little savory and all delicious. 

For appetizers we had Alligator Sausage Cheesecake. Yup, you read that right! I had been told that I needed to get it and the waiter said it's by far their best-selling appetizer so we had to do it. The minute I put the first bite into my mouth I was overwhelmed with the intensity of the flavors. It was cheesy but not as heavy or thick as regular cheesecake, with bits of shrimp and alligator sausage mixed in with very traditional creole seasonings giving it a bit of a kick. When the waiter came to see how we were doing I asked him how much I would have to pay to get that recipe. He told me he would print me out a copy. I thought he was joking, but he returned a couple of minutes later with a typed out recipe for how to make their most popular and most original dish. Would any high-end restaurant ever do that? Absolutely not. But it just added to my reasons for loving the place. Once I order some alligator sausage and try making this for myself I'll see about posting the recipe.

For dinner I had the delicious blackened red fish with crab-chili hollandaise sauce, which was also delicious, but the dessert here blew me away too: coconut bread pudding. Normally I am not a huge fan of bread pudding, but this was not soggy in the least. The flakes of coconut and the caramel sauce made this dessert not too sweet and the perfect end to a wonderful meal.

On the cab ride back, in between proclamations of love to the Saints and U2, the seemingly intoxicated driver told us that we should go to Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop for some good music where the locals go. Claiming to be the oldest bar in the country, the place has no electricity except for the cash registers, jukebox, and sound equipment for the musicians. It is lit entirely by candles. We sat on stools around the piano while the musician took requests. He played Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, and Elvis. The place was laid back, entertaining and very unique. I definitely wasn't used to the inside smoking though. 

It was painful coming back to snow after 70-80 degree weather all week. Next time I go I want to check out the Metairie area which is very funky and I only discovered during my horse and carriage tour on the last night. If you want to see more of my pictures click here

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